City makes headway on Exit 16 improvements

Dec. 29—VALDOSTA — Tourists passing through I-75 and Highway 84 will be met with a welcoming streetscape along Exit 16 by late 2023.

After delays due to funding availability and permit requirements, the city made progress with its Exit 16 Improvement Project by accepting a construction bid for $613,584.40.

The city has been collaborating with the Valdosta Tree Commission on the Georgia Department of Transportation's "Welcome to Georgia" Gateway Beautification and Enhancement Program since 2018.

Back in July 2018, the city was approved for reimbursement funds of up to $61,422 from GDOT, which would be repaid upon project completion.

Original plans included signage for Exit 18 and just landscaping improvements on Exit 16, but with GDOT raising the Exit 18 overpass in 2024 making any prior construction moot, the city decided to focus its efforts on Exit 16 instead.

This decision initiated another permit process, which caused the initial delay due to the pandemic. The city finally received the permit in 2021, and GDOT extended grant funding to December 2023.

City design consultants have developed a set of landscape and construction documents which detail the installation of two decorative monument signs, lighting, irrigation and substantial landscaping.

According to Mark Barber's, city manager, report, this project was originally put out for bid in 2021 and the City received only one bid for $456,167.45. This amount was much higher than city officials anticipated, so the decision was made to reassess the construction estimates, ensure that the projected construction costs were reasonable and to put the project back out to bid at a later date.

The Exit 16 Gateway Improvement Project was re-bid in January, one bid was received a month later by Artesian Contracting Company for $551,904.00.

Lack of funds further delayed the project, and by the time the city found additional sources of funding, the project cost had increased an additional $5,900 due to market adjustments and inflation.

"Given the current inflationary market environment, a 1% increase in cost over the course of seven months can be considered negligible," he said in his report.

This, combined with a 10% contingency of $55,780.40, brings the project total to $613,584.40.

Ben O' Dowd, city engineer, confirmed to city council that the project would be jointly funded from additional SPLOST monies and the Valdosta-Lowndes Tourism Authority after Council members Sandra Tooley and Andy Gibbs inquired about funding.

Funding for this Project would come from the following sources: — $189,162.40 from SPLOST VIII (Council approved original budget amount for this project from FY21) — $15,000.00 from the Valdosta Tree Commission — $61,422.00 from the GDOT "Welcome to Georgia" Gateway Beautification and Enhancement Program Grant — $198,000.00 from SPLOST VIII (Funding which can be reutilized from the Council-approved FY22 "Gordon/Lamar Turn Lane" Project which was canceled) — $150,000.00 from the Valdosta-Lowndes Tourism Authority

City council approved the agreement with Artesian, with Tooley being the sole holdout.

In other business, the city will also make upgrades in their utilities and public works department with the additions of a new dump truck and truck with sway car dump and tow body, totaling $225,655.

Due to wear and tear, council also approved a purchase of 192 filter cloths for the Withlacoochee Water Pollution Control Plant, paying out $67,008 to Aqua-Aerobic Systems.

This brings the city's expenditures to $906,247.40 for the end of 2022.